Clever Girl: The Adventure-Ready Ford Raptor of All Trades
Never has there been a greater time to be an off-road enthusiast. The landscape of vehicles, platforms, sizes, shapes, purposes and financial investments vary just as much as the surfaces these vehicles drive on. From optioned-out OEMs to full-custom UTVs and everything in between, off-roaders in 2020 have a larger variety to choose from, and each segment of this industry is going deeper and more specific than ever before. While having so many choices can be overwhelming for those who are new to the hobby, it's welcomed by those who have had the chance to carve out their interests in off-road recreation, and who are ready for a change of pace.
Such is true for Isaac Marchionna, a video production and motion graphics designer from Portland, Oregon. Isaac is no stranger to off-road builds, after spending years perfecting his 5th gen Toyota 4Runner into the ultimate overland rig. Isaac took his 4Runner everywhere from the highest peaks of the Colorado Rockies to the beaches of Baja California. There was simply nowhere that build couldn't go, and more importantly, it served as a home on the road for him. But after participating in some events that required a bit more from his Toyota than it was willing to offer, Isaac made the decision to pursue a different platform; one that could do everything his 4Runner could, only faster.
Enter the 2nd Generation Ford Raptor. Having seen first-hand what a lightly modified version of this ready-to-rip truck can do down on the Baja peninsula, Isaac was convinced this was the way to go for his next build. Rather than simply buying a truck, then figuring out what he wanted it to do and how he'd do it, Isaac took a more careful approach, taking notes of what modifications he liked and ones he didn't need while driving alongside several other Raptors on the Trail of Missions in Mexico. Since this annual event required traveling with haste through some of the most unforgiving environments in North America, he knew building a truck for Baja was just the right amount of overkill to take on literally anywhere else. With a clear vision, and a hit-list of mods, Isaac took the plunge and brought home his own gen 2 Ford Raptor.
In the following months, the build began to take shape. Starting off with some of the hard parts, namely the suspension, wheels and tires, Isaac took an approach that left the Raptor in mostly stock configuration to the untrained eye, but a deeper look would reveal the true genius of a purpose-built truck using modest, but very effective parts. Isaac swapped out the factory Fox Shocks for a set of their 3.0 internal bypass DSC race series coilovers up front, and a set of 3.0 external bypass shocks with piggyback reservoirs. The larger shocks, DSC (dual-speed compression) adjusters and bypasses allow for much greater tunability, which is crucial to a suspension system that must perform in all types of terrain, under a vehicle weighed down with off-road equipment.
Having ran a set of Nitto Tire Ridge Grapplers on his previous 4Runner build, Isaac was both familiar with and confident in the capabilities of the flagship hybrid-terrain tire. This lead to an easy choice for his new Raptor build, opting for a set of 35x12.50R17 Ridge Grapplers wrapped around Method Race Wheels M105 beadlock wheels. This combination allows him to air down with the confidence that he could move over virtually any surface with abundant grip, yet retain all the road manners and quiet ride on the pavement that you could expect from a traditional all-terrain tire. The Ridge Grapplers have been put to the test in Baja before, and they hold up to the abuse of a bigger, faster truck like the Ford Raptor.
Once the new suspension and rolling gear was addressed, Isaac knew he wanted to protect some of the Raptor's weak points from the elements he planned to drive (much faster now) over. The factory front bumper, while aesthetic and well-designed by Ford, is prone to taking hits that could result in a bad day. One quick way to take care of this issue is to install an aftermarket metal bumper. Isaac opted for the Addictive Desert Designs bolt-on Pro Front Bumper, made from .120 wall steel tubing featuring an aluminum skid plate. Not only is this bumper much stronger than the factory bumpers, it also allows for auxiliary lighting mounts and provides a much better approach angle. Not stopping at the front end, Isaac also installed a Foutz Racing aluminum belly skid plate and rear differential skid plate to protect some of the most vulnerable components of the Raptor's drivetrain.
While the Gen 2 Raptor replaces the old 6.2L V8 for a smaller, more efficient 3.5L Ecoboost V6, it still packs a punch when the right mods are done. Isaac installed a Cobb Tuning Stage 2 upgrade system, which includes a cold-air intake, larger front-mount intercooler, and Access Port tuner to ramp up parameters in the ECU and TCM. The stage 2 kit sees nearly a 24% increase in peak horsepower, which can certainly make up the difference when adding heavier bumpers, skid plates and other components to the Raptor.
While Isaac's 4Runner was capable of carrying all his equipment inside and around the car, it just wasn't the same as having a pickup bed to work with. He opted for a modular chase rack system from SDHQ, which allows for two spare tires held down by Mac's Tie Downs and a storage box from Full Force Metalworks that holds three fuel cans and tools. Additionally, Isaac installed a set of Built Right Industries bedside organizer panels and a DMOS shovel and mount. Wrapping up the bed is a 15 lbs Powertank compressed CO2 bottle for airing up tires, a Pro Eagle 2-ton big wheel off-road jack, Maxtrax Extreme Recovery Boards, and a Wolfpack storage box from Frontrunner. Recently, Isaac has also installed a Dometic CFX28 fridge-freezer with a cover.
Knowing full well he would be doing some night-time wheeling, Isaac put together a package of auxiliary LED lights from Baja Designs for his new Raptor. On the front bumper is an ONX6 20-inch Laser Hybrid LED bar with spot pattern, along with a pair of Squadron Pro wide pattern lights in amber for dust. On the bed rack is an S8 20-inch Pro LED bar in Wide Driving pattern in amber paired with a strobe module. Under the rear bumper, he also installed a pair of S2 Sport backup lights in a flood pattern. The added LED lighting gives Isaac the confidence to go anywhere in the dark.
These days, off-roading has as much to do with components on the interior of a vehicle as the exterior. CB radios and paper maps have been replaced with HAM and Race radios and GPS systems for precise and communicative off-roading. As a tech enthusiast himself, Isaac had a list of devices he wanted to install inside his Raptor, and an ergonomic way to mount them for heavy off-road travel. Some of these devices include a Garmin inReach Mini Satellite Messenger (with RAM mount), a Yaesu FTM 400XDR 2m/70cm HAM 5-Watt Radio (with custom RAM mount), a Kenwood TK790H 110-Watt Race Radio, a WeBoost Drive Reach Cellular Booster, a Yaesu FT-2DR Handheld HAM radio for staying connected outside the truck, and an Apple iPad (6th Gen) using LeadNav, GAIA, and Earthmate apps (with custom RAM mount). Holding the antennas for his radios is a Bullet Proof Diesel Third Brake Light Dual NMO Antenna Mount.
Like many who purposefully build their Raptors, Isaac is admittedly never finished with the project. It's an ongoing process of using his equipment in the toughest elements to learn of potential improvements that can be made to the many different parts of the vehicle, researching solutions that best address any issues or weak links, and implementing them. Then follow up with more off-road trips to repeat the cycle. This constant improvement is what keeps Isaac motivated to build and use his Raptor in some of the most challenging, but incredibly rewarding environments. For Isaac and his do-it-all Raptor, the road ahead is never certain. But you can be certain both of them will be ready for it.